Light at end of tourism tunnel as SA exits its third Covid-19 wave
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AS SOUTH Africa celebrated World Tourism Day yesterday, local pundits have begun to be optimistic about the sector’s prospects as the country officially “exited” the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic.
The tourism sector is without a doubt one of the industries that has been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic for a long and devastating 18 months.
The Bureau for Economic Research (BER) yesterday said tourist accommodation statistics had been showing a gradual recovery since February, but the headwinds caused by lockdown restrictions and civil unrest had a severe impact on the hospitality industry.
However, hope rose on Sunday when the National Institute of Communicable
Diseases announced that South Africa had officially exited its third wave of Covid-19 infections, with the number of fully vaccinated people approaching 8.4 million.
BER economist Mia Slabber said the latest data from Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) and Tourism South Africa suggested that domestic and regional tourists were currently driving the “recovery” in the sector.
Slabber said tourist establishments that had managed to shift their focus to the domestic market had been benefiting from a gradual increase in confidence and significant pent-up demand.
However, Slabber said they were hoping to see an uptick in visitors from South Africa’s traditional high-spending source markets such as the UK, the US and Europe.
“Unfortunately, South Africa remains on the UK’s red list and, until we are removed, it is unlikely that we will see a sizeable number of visitors from what is usually one of our most important overseas markets,” Slabber said.
“Now that South Africa is emerging from the third wave and the summer holiday season is fast approaching, we are hoping to see an uptick in visitors from our key source markets.
“Any real recovery in the tourism sector will greatly depend on the pace and scale of South Africa’s vaccine rollout programme.”
According to StatsSA, spending by domestic and inbound visitors declined by R164 billion in 2020 during the height of harsh lockdown restrictions.
The sector’s contribution to gross domestic product also shrank from 7.2 percent in 2018 to 2.9 percent in 2020, and the number of jobs supported by the industry declined from 1.6 million to 640 000.
StatsSA recently said seasonally adjusted income from accommodation was still down 74 percent in July 2021 compared with July 2019. It said income was 53 percent lower in July 2021 than in June 2021 due to stricter lockdown regulations and the unrest in KZN and Gauteng.
Yesterday, Deputy Minister of Tourism Fish Mahlalela said South Africa was celebrating Tourism Day under the cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, Mahlalela said the industry had demonstrated resilience and promised a strong rebound through recovery.
“Recovery will drive the way forward for us and has become our new North Star. It allows us to re-imagine and reposition tourism for optimal inclusive growth.”